A dynamic redesign merges two Alexandria apartments into one sleek penthouse boasting light-filled spaces and panoramic views
The concept of home-as-sanctuary was important to Old Town Alexandria residents Jerry Penso and Andrew Heinle, whose soaring, 3,140-square-foot penthouse comprises two conjoined condominiums. Both doctors who hail from California, they sought lots of natural light and outdoor spaces, as well as scenic views. “We’d owned our original condo for five years before we purchased the neighboring one in 2016,” says Penso. “Soon after that, we hired Runningdog Architects to help us combine the two units in a way that felt like one home.”
Architects Eric Carle and Warren Wick were tasked with figuring out the nuts and bolts of a tricky redesign in the Brutalist-style concrete high-rise, built in 1976. They drew up plans, obtained necessary permits and devised a way to combine the two units into a single, breathtaking penthouse.
The clients’ wish list included a modern, open plan with public spaces oriented toward Potomac River views; they also requested a large kitchen and walk-in master-bedroom closet. “This was a complex remodel,” relates Carle, describing the demolition and merger of the couple’s original three-bedroom condo and the adjacent one-bedroom corner unit. “The building had no as-built drawings documenting the units, so we had to manipulate the design when plumbing, electrical and structural elements could not be moved.”
The dramatic finished space features an open dining room, lounge and entertaining area lining the river-view wall. At one end, the kitchen accesses the dining room; on the other, a wet bar (once the smaller condo’s kitchen) serves the entertaining area. “A circulation spine connects the kitchen at one end to the wet bar at the other,” Carle explains of the hallway that separates public and private domains. From this hallway, corridors lead to a study, a guest suite and the master suite, where one entire bedroom was converted into a spacious dressing room. By combining the units’ two balconies, the project also created a 1,370-square-foot wraparound deck with 270-degree views of DC, Maryland and Virginia.
The owners decided to install new storefront windows throughout. “They not only reduce the visual clutter of the old windows and dramatically enhance the views—which flow from the MGM National Harbor to downtown DC—but they are also energy-efficient and sound-proof,” Carle points out. Ethereal, pooling floor-to-ceiling linen curtains bring warmth and softness to the expanses of glass.
Before construction began in 2017, architectural and interior designer Katie Otis joined the team to collaborate on the plans and help select everything from materials and finishes to furniture and lighting. To prevent the open public area from feeling like a hotel lobby with its 14-foot ceilings and rectangular form, the homeowners requested a degree of spatial definition based on function. “We discussed how to break up the space into dining, living and entertainment areas via furniture layout, lighting choices and special features,” Otis notes. “For example, there was already a dropped ceiling above the living area that cleverly concealed ductwork. I had it clad in white-washed wood to further define the area and create an interesting feature.” Otis also added a hot-rolled-steel fireplace to anchor the main living space. And a striking satin-brass chandelier by Pelle brings definition to the entertainment area.
Floor selections made in collaboration with the homeowners include engineered European white-oak flooring in nine-inch-wide planks. Meanwhile, all the baseboards and moldings were kept clean and minimalist.
While the breakfast bar on one side of the open kitchen has caned bar stools for casual meals, the dining area easily seats a crowd. Otis tapped Tennessee craftsman Caleb Woodard to design and build the oval-topped wooden dining table, with its sculptural organic-form base; he also built the kitchen and wet bar cabinetry to Otis’ specifications.
The kitchen features bleached-ash cabinets with integrated pulls. The warmth of the wood is countered by the cool gray-marble backsplash, countertops and hood; the walnut wet bar is embellished with the same marble.
Otis employed a neutral palette tending toward clean white with touches of green, gray and blue throughout. “We didn’t want to compete with the scenic views or art collection, but rather complement them,” she explains. Working closely with Penso and Heinle, the designer pulled what she calls “a refined and fresh take on Mid-Century Modern” with her furniture choices, which are mainly Scandinavian and include iconic pieces like Hans Wegner’s Ox Chair and dining chairs by Finn Juhl. More recent creations, such as the Isla coffee table from New York-based Egg Collective and a sofa by René Holten for Artifort, are also part of the mix. Upholstery throughout—whether bouclé, leather or velvet—has tactile, textural appeal, also harkening back to mid-century style.
The entertainment area showcases a 10-foot shuffleboard table custom-made by California artisan Sean Woolsey. “It had to be craned up by people working on the exterior of the building because it was too big to fit in the elevator,” Otis recalls.
Otis designed brass swivel doors with reeded glass to lend separation and intimacy to the master bedroom, which is a picture of serenity. Phillips Jeffries wall covering, along with floor-to-ceiling Holly Hunt drapery and a hand-woven rug from Timothy Paul, enhance the vibe.
The homeowners, who moved into their completed, three-bedroom penthouse in 2018, are thrilled with the results. “We’re lucky to have a comfortable, relaxing place to come home to every night,” says Penso. “We cook, listen to music, hang out on the balconies. And we can also easily entertain both small and large gatherings. It really meets all our needs.”
Renovation Architecture: Eric R. Carle, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP; Warren A. Wick, AIA, NCARB, Runningdog Architects, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Interior Design: Katie Otis, Katie Otis Design, LLC, Arlington, Virginia. Contractor: Clay Teagle, The Russell Gage Corporation, Alexandria, Virginia.
Cabinetry & Dining Table: calebwoodardfurniture.com. Countertop: daltile.com. Marble Backsplash: stonesource.com. Sink, Faucet: Julien.ca, calfaucets.com through weaverhardware.com. Appliances: boschhome.com, subzero-wolf.com, mieleusa.com, vikingrange.com, gaggenau.com through abwappliances.com. Island Pendants: rollandhill.com. Counter Stools: cb2.com. Dining Chairs: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Chandelier: pelledesigns.com.
Fireplace: ecosmartfire.com. Hearth: stonesource.com. Fireplace Surround: metalspecialties.biz. Built-Ins & Hardware: calebwoodardfurniture.com. Dropped Ceiling: essexcoatings.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Coffee Table: eggcollective.com. Sectional, Sofa, Side Table, Ottoman: m2l.com. Side Table: goodcolony.com. Ox Chair: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Side Table: apartmentzero.com.
ENTERTAINMENT AREA/WET BAR
Wet Bar Cabinetry: calebwoodardfurniture.com. Countertop: daltile.com. Marble Countertop & Backsplash: stonesource.com. Sink, Faucets: Julien.ca, calfaucets.com through weaverhardware.com. Wine Fridge: subzero-wolf.com through abwappliances.com. Pendant over Countertop: rollandhill.com. Game Table & Chairs: furniturefromscandinavia.com. Chandelier over Game Table: pelledesigns.com. Shuffle Board: seanwoolsey.com. Rug: timothypaulcarpets.com.
Brass Partition: wellbornwright.com. Bedstead: tyfinefurniture.com. Nightstands: lawsonfenning.com. Reading Lights: workstead.com. Rug & Bedding: timothypaulcarpets.com. Chair: m2l.com. Occasional Table: westelm.com. Wallpaper: pillipjeffries.com through hollyhunt.com.
Floor, Wall & Shower Tile: architecturalceramics.com. Vanity: thefurnitureguild.com. Vanity Counter: stonesource.com. Arched Mirror: bower-studios.com. Sconces: apparatusstudio.com. Runner: timothypaulcarpets.com.
Closet System: Senzafine by poliformdc.com.